The turbulent 1980s have come to a close on this second MNC Wednesday miniseries, evaluating Heisman Trophy history: In 33 seasons overall now, we have confirmed just 12 winners—demonstrating that a lot of the voting process really came down to hype and mediots voting blindly. Will anything change in this review? We’re guessing it might, based on almost-immediate doubt and remorse.
1989 Heisman Trophy winner: Andre Ware, QB, Houston (original); Darian Hagan, QB, Colorado (revised)
The voters finally gave in to a small-school player with video-game statistics: Houston Cougars quarterback Andre Ware, who threw for 4,699 yards and 49 total TDs against the No. 63 SOS—while on probation, no less. His 152.5 QB rating was good, but we’re nowhere near even being sold on this one, so hold on to your hats for a bit. The Cougars didn’t even win the Southwest Conference!
Sweet relief, as there are always other candidates to consider here. So, this is our final list of vetted Heisman candidates for the 1989 Heisman Trophy, which is somewhat diverse:
- Raghib Ismail, RB/KR/PR, Notre Dame: 1,628 total yards with 5 TDs (No. 2 SOS)
- Darian Hagan, QB, Colorado: 2,006 total yards with 21 TDs and 4 INTs (No. 33 SOS)
- Ty Detmer, QB, BYU: 4,560 passing yards with 38 total TDs and 15 INTs (No. 73 SOS)
- Ricky Ervins, RB, USC: 1,662 total yards with 11 TDs (No. 6 SOS)
Detmer led the nation in QB rating (175.6) by almost 20 points, but even more so than Ware, he played a weak schedule. Hagan led the Buffs to an undefeated season, although his 161.6 QB rating didn’t qualify for the national list, as he only tossed 85 passing attempts all season—even though he averaged over 11 yards per attempt his way to throwing for 1,002 yards. He zooms to the top of our QB list, either way.
Ismail and Ervins are interesting candidates, with their stellar seasons against top-notch competition: Notre Dame posted a 1-loss season to land an Orange Bowl berth, while the Trojans won the Pac-10 and advanced to the Rose Bowl. Ervins has the “better” season for a lesser team, so he’s going to get an edge on Ismail here. So this comes down, surprisingly, to Hagan and Ervins—and it’s no contest.
The Buffs played a good enough schedule in winning the Big 8 that Hagan’s contributions impress us the most, and there is also the emotional leader in him that can’t be measured by statistics. Colorado was reeling after the death of its beloved former QB, Sal Aunese, from cancer. Hagan stepped in and took the Buffs to the brink of the MNC, and his play was nearly flawless.
His QB rating was very good, and the SOS was solid enough—beating both Nebraska and Oklahoma in the same season by a combined 23 points was impressive, and beating ranked teams from the B1G and the Pac-10 conferences also adds to the accomplishment. Hagan finished fifth in the Heisman voting, mostly because he was just a sophomore, and there were informal “rules” back then about that.
We think he deserves this more than any other player after both running and throwing for 1,000-plus yards each, respectively. Hagan would never be this good again, even when the Buffaloes won part of the 1990 MNC. But that doesn’t matter here, right now, for this year. He earned this the hardest way.
Congratulations to Darian Hagan, the real Heisman Trophy winner from 1989.